Fighters claimed by ISIS in last week’s riot at a prison south of Jakarta. (ISIS photo)

A Bloody Prelude to Ramadan as Terror Groups Encourage Attack Surge

A series of terror attacks in run-up to the beginning of Ramadan could portend a difficult month ahead for terror at home and abroad, as past years have seen escalated or remarkable acts of violence during the Islamic holy month.

ISIS has issued formal calls for violence in past years, vowing that jihadists would receive extra reward in the afterlife for attacks during the Islamic holy month. In a 2017 Rumiyah magazine article calling on followers to “double your efforts and intensify your operations,” the terror group said, “Your targeting of the so-called innocents and civilians is beloved by us and the most effective, so go forth and may you get a great reward or martyrdom in Ramadan.”

Late ISIS chief spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, in exhorting followers in the West to conduct Ramadan attacks, told would-be jihadists, “The smallest action you do in the heart of their land is dearer to us than the largest action by us.” His imagery and quotes figure prominently in ISIS and ISIS supporters’ propaganda since his August 2016 death.

Ramadan begins at sundown this Tuesday for Muslim communities in the U.S. and Europe. It coincides with the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, with a formal ceremony on Monday; the establishment of the embassy has also elicited threats of violence from al-Qaeda and ISIS. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said in a five-minute video message Sunday that President Trump “was clear and explicit, and he revealed the true face of the modern crusade, where standing down and appeasement does not work with them, but only resistance through the call and jihad.”

Past Ramadan attacks have included the 2015 Tunisian beach resort attacks, the 2016 mass shooting perpetrated by Omar Mateen at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., the 2016 Istanbul airport attack, the 2016 siege of the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the 2017 ice cream parlor car bomb in Baghdad, the 2017 massive car bomb near the German Embassy in Kabul, the 2017 London Bridge and Borough Market ram-and-stab attacks, the 2017 Brussels train station bombing, and the 2017 stabbing of a police officer at the Flint, Mich., airport. There have been numerous smaller attacks during past Ramadan months, as well.

This year, with a changing caliphate landscape, ISIS still operates media channels (sans Rumiyah, which has ceased publication) but ISIS-supporting media groups have picked up much of the public relations work. While the ISIS-affiliated Amaq news agency claimed responsibility for the Saturday evening stabbing rampage in Paris, ISIS-supporting media group Muharar al-Ansar issued a blood-red poster declaring “sang pour sang” — “blood for blood” in French  — with a photo of French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron tweeted after the attack, “France once again paid the price of blood but did not give an inch to the enemies of Freedom.”

The ISIS-supporting media groups, while issuing vivid graphics and whipping up followers with call to incitement, also work as a rapid-response team of sorts, not only offering justification for attacks but calling on others to emulate the terrorists. Muharar al-Ansar has previously used footage of 2015 Paris coordinated attacks terrorist Samy Amimour in a directive for Muslims in the West to “answer the call and join the caravan of martyrs.”

One person was killed and four wounded in the Saturday stabbing spree in a busy district near Paris’ opera house. Khamzat Asimov, a French citizen born in Chechnya in 1997, was reportedly on a terror watchlist before the attack but had no criminal record. Local media reports indicated that, while stabbing passers-by and yelling “Allahu akbar” (“God is the greatest”), he tried to enter multiple bars and restaurants but was blocked by quick-acting patrons. Asimov was shot and killed by police.

ISIS was ready with their quick statement, with familiar wording, issued via Amaq: “According to a security source at the Amaq agency, the author of the knife attack in the city of Paris is a soldier of the Islamic State; he led the operation in response to calls to target the coalition countries.” The rapid claim can be attributed to Asimov leaving a last-testament video — selfie footage with trees in the background, a parka hood over Asimov’s head and his nose and mouth covered — claiming allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Amaq released the French-language statement with Arabic subtitles.

In Indonesia, a trio of Sunday attacks on churches in Surabaya had the shocking twist of a terror family behind the deadly spree. Daughters who were 9 and 12 years old accompanied their mother, Puji Kuswat, when she detonated a bomb at the Indonesian Christian Church. After dropping off that bombing team, father Dita Sopriyanto went to the Pentecost Central Church and detonated an explosive. Meanwhile, two teenage sons went to Santa Maria Catholic Church and detonated suicide bombs.

Seven people were killed in the attacks, along with the six members of the bomber family. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks through an Amaq statement.

That evening, explosives prematurely detonated during construction of a bomb at a family apartment in Sidoarjo. A mother, father and son were killed, according to local media, while two young children were rescued from the apartment.

Before the Zawahiri call to arms issued by al-Qaeda, the terror group’s Global Islamic Media Front issued a message from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb warning of attacks on Western companies.

The al-Qaeda branch said the statement encompassed “all the Western companies and institutions” operating “from Libya to Mauritania and the Sahel countries,” and serves as notification “that they are a legitimate target for the Mujahideen.”

“This statement also comes to warn Muslims not to approach these companies and institutions and to take all the measures of caution to avoid” them because of “the harm that is expected,” AQIM added. The terror group did not say whether this was a Ramadan-specific threat.

The National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin, which was updated last Wednesday, does not detail specific threats but broadly says the U.S. continues to face “one of the most challenging threat environments since 9/11, as foreign terrorist organizations exploit the Internet to inspire, enable, or direct individuals already here in the homeland to commit terrorist acts.”

“Homegrown terror suspects increasingly rely on technology, such as end-to-end encrypted social media applications, to avoid detection,” says the NTAS Bulletin. “Terrorist groups are urging recruits to adopt easy-to-use tools to target public places and events. Specific attack tactics have included the use of vehicle ramming, small arms, straight-edged blades or knives, homemade explosives, and poisons or toxins.”

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a weekly columnist for the New York Observer and a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and Washington Bureau Chief for PJ Media. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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